On their Facebook page, French pop quintet The Ye-Ye’s note that they would like to “sing your favorite songs to you in the world’s sexiest language.” Last Friday night the band played their final show doing just that, bidding adieu to a jubilant crowd with a set of re-imagined covers and sweetly nostalgic originals.
The ladies embarked on their finale with a take on Marie Laforêt’s “Marie-douceur, Marie-colère,” itself a cover of The Rolling Stones’ 1966 raga-rock tantrum “Paint it Black.” They weren’t nearly as brooding and aggressive as The Stones, nor did they mimic Laforêt’s rushed pacing and nasal incantations. Instead, the Ye-Ye’s version floated on a hum of cool harmonies, guided by drums that snapped out a perfectly engaging beat. Similarly, the band’s performance of the Del Shannon hit “Runaway” shrugged the original’s melodic nervousness and desperate, aching vocals in favor of a more frolicsome, bubblegum boogie.
It’s a formula that The Ye-Ye’s, by the time of their unfortunate demise, have absolutely perfected. Take, for example, “American Ye-Ye,” the band’s new single. It’s an original composition that’s a little Doo-wop and a little surf, the kind of light and breezy that feels like dancing barefoot on cool grass. On Friday The Ye-Ye’s tucked that one right in the middle of a string of classics like “All My Loving,” “Bang Bang” and “Leader of the Pack,” and it fit in perfectly. Several originals were sprinkled throughout the final set list, which was otherwise made up of transformed American pop standards and ye-ye hits from the likes of Francoise Hardy and France Gall.
The band – keyboardist Lindsay Weinberg, guitar players Sara Jean Hoot and Rachel Swain (Roxy Swain), bassist Heather Perry and drummer Carlos J. Zapata (both of Bring Your Ray Gun) – delivered on each song, building a sort of party atmosphere inside Subterranean. They go-go-ed up Gall’s “Laisse Tomber Les Filles,” turned the ho-hum of Hardy’s “Oh Oh Cheri” into something robust and sunny, then followed those with another original that sounded plucked from 1960’s airwaves. The last third of the set found The Ye-Ye’s shimmying through “Peggy Sue,” delivering glistening guitars and castanets on “Be My Baby,” following that by conjuring up Francoise Hardy’s mysterious “Temps de l’Amour.”
For their swan song, the group chose to translate R&B into ye-ye, performing their version of “I’m Blue (The Gong Song).” While closer to what The 22.214.171.124’s sounded like when they gave The Ikettes track a go for Kill Bill, the Ye-Ye’s rendition opened with a patient, groovy confidence that made the eventual take-off all the more fun. While it’s a shame there won’t be another chance to experience this group together live, they do leave behind a handful of great recordings, including “Gong,” which the band says is their most requested song, and was their “favorite to play live.”
Opening the show was synth-folk project FEE LION, a one-woman electric dream-machine powered by Chicagoan Justina Kairyte. Her combination of mischievous melodies and new wave beats perfectly complimented her vocals, which fluttered and flowed à la Mariam Wallentin of Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Rather than allowing working solo to present itself as an obstacle while building songs with loops, synths, drum machines and guitar, FEE LION took advantage of the freedom that control provided and crafted a spell-binding set that suggests she has an extremely bright future.
Garage rockers Rambos followed up with a raucous performance that blew through Subterranean like a tornado in a frontier town, leaving sand and whiskey all over the place. Jeremy David Miller led the charge with sincerely ominous vocals on “Sweet Mothers of Death,” a gargantuan rock song that hit with all the lava and thunder of a proper Armageddon. Axe man Ryan Joseph Anderson stole the show when the band dusted off “Arrows,” lurking along side drummer Ian Tsan’s deceptively mesmerizing tumble before unleashing a fireworks show of a guitar solo.
Setting the table for The Ye-Yes was singer-songwriter Rachele Eve, a founding member of The Ye-Ye’s who would join them on-stage for a tune later in the night. During her solo set, the Grand Rapids, MI based artist played a series of stripped-down ballads rich with country warmth and folk elegance. The amount of raw emotion that Eve was able to gracefully pack into her music was captivating, and perfectly balanced by both her lighter moments and superb songwriting. That praise is likely no surprise to fans of her 2014 EP “Our Love Is Imagined,” where Eve benefits from the presence of several other talented musicians, including a harpist and two cellists.
While The Ye-Ye’s are no more, Heather Perry has a new solo record, Rachele Eve again plays Chicago on Friday, June 19th at SubT (tickets), and Jeremy David Miller of Rambos plays as a part of The Millers on Thursday, June 4th at Comfort Station (RSVP).